Sunday, April 14, 2013

Truest statement of the week

Well from a global perspective I don't think that there's much to choose between him and Bush.  I mean President Obama has expanded the war into the sovereign territory of Pakistan and Pakistan is now being torn apart, you know?  So you have Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, now they've -- two days ago they started talking about "a game changer" in Syria because they don't know who's using chemical weapons -- though they probably supplied it to both sides.  So you have -- you have a situation where it looks like it's a psychosis which is -- You know, look at -- look at what's going on with Tony Blair says that it was one of the better decisions he made in his life and now he's getting paid $500,000 a lecture to go and talk about morality and ethical behavior and God, and so on, you know?  Bush is painting self-portraits of himself in the shower and [former US Secretary of Defense Donald] Rumsfeld is congratulating people who participated in the war -- after killing 134,000 people and the sanctions were more than a million.  So what are American citizens to do?  I think, well, perhaps it's a good question for all of us because all of us seemed to be strapped into some kind of straight jacket and the idea is that, "Are you going to again go out and vote for a Democrat or Republican or Democrats and Republicans when we know that this is what is going on?"  So until, in some way, we are able to at least -- at least not participate so enthusiastically in what these governments are doing with us.  It is the same thing in India, though people don't actually participate so enthusiastically. I mean in India the current government has actually 10% of the population voted for it in this great majority that it claims it has.  And I think more people vote for the American Idol than vote for the American president.  But the problem is that we are faced with a crisis in our idea of democracy because governments who claim to represent us, do not.  I mean, before the Iraq War, millions of people marched against it.  None of the governments in any way cared about what people really wanted.  So, to answer your question, I think the danger of somebody like Obama is that he smokes up the mirrors and a lot of the opposition just thinks "Oh, he's better than Bush!" and so then it divides the opposition -- whereas he's actually doing things in terms of foreign policy which are sometimes worse than Bush.

-- author and activist Arundahti Roy speaking to Ruth Conniff on last week's Progressive Radio.

Truest statement of the week II

We hope that Americans will help us or something like that.  But they did nothing. They just, I think, I not sure, they steal some oil or something.  Nothing's changed.  The government now is worse and worse.

-- a young Iraq male explains on this month's War News Radio.

Truest statement of the week III

"'The war in Iraq will soon belong to history," stated Barack Obama, in an address marking the supposed end of the occupation of Iraq.  America will remember it as history, but Iraqis live through it every day.

-- Banen al-Sheemary (Mondo Weiss).

A note to our readers

Hey --

Another Sunday.

First up, we thank all who participated this edition which includes Dallas and the following:

The Third Estate Sunday Review's Jim, Dona, Ty, Jess and Ava,
Rebecca of Sex and Politics and Screeds and Attitude,
Betty of Thomas Friedman Is a Great Man,
C.I. of The Common Ills and The Third Estate Sunday Review,
Kat of Kat's Korner (of The Common Ills),
Mike of Mikey Likes It!,
Elaine of Like Maria Said Paz),
Cedric of Cedric's Big Mix,
Ruth of Ruth's Report,
Wally of The Daily Jot,
Trina of Trina's Kitchen,
Stan of Oh Boy It Never Ends,
Isaiah of The World Today Just Nuts,
and Ann of Ann's Mega Dub.

And what did we come up with?

This week we had Arundhati Roy with a great commentary.
And War News Radio came back with another show.
And we loved this as well.
The editorial was rushed.  It ended up being C.I. and me (Jim) and we're not sure if it works or not.  We shaped what we could.
Ava and C.I. wrote an amazing piece.  
Dona did another Congressional roundtable with our four Congressional correspondents: Kat, Wally, Ava and C.I.

Years ago, we did a piece on Diana Ross that C.I. and Betty thought was going to be celebrating her recordings.  Nope.  And they were furious.  They will tell you that is the piece they hate.  For years, I have offered that we could do another look at Diana to make up for it.  During this edition,  Betty found out that Stan, Isaiah, Kat, Marcia, Ty and Dona, Ann, and C.I. had seen Diana Ross in concert for the Reunion Tour.  She got with C.I. and the two of them tossed this out.  Jess and I worked on this after we watched a bootleg of the Philadelphia concert.  Otherwise, that's the full credit. 
We support the Iraqi protesters.
If you read Kat's site, you got a hint this was coming about a month ago.

Two readers asked if we could consider doing a piece on Sheena Easton.  Not sure how strong this is but we enjoyed writing it.

Law and Disorder Radio talks Lynne Stewart.

Angelina Jolie's remarks.
Repost from Workers World.
From Senator Murray's office.
Mike and the gang wrote this and we thank them for it.


-- Jim, Dona, Ty, Jess, Ava and C.I.

Editorial: The press failures

What a week for Iraq and the western press last week was.

For example, the United Nations announced there were 456 deaths from violence in the month of March.  AFP, which wrongly reported 271 deaths, felt a Tweet counted as a correction.  271 is a gross undercounting and AFP should be ashamed.  Yet, as the week was winding down they were again repeating their clearly false number.

Because they have no shame and clearly no pride in their work.

With no sense of awareness or irony, the head of AFP's Baghdad division, Prashant Rao Tweeted this morning:

Being told Iraq to have public holidays from Tuesday to April 20, ahead of elections. No sweat, not like any of us wanted to get work done.

No, Prashant, you don't want to do any work.  You want to take what Nouri says and present it as fact.  You want to appease the tyrant.

For over 100 days, over 10% of Iraq's population has taken part in protests.  Below are protesters in Falluja.

 From Fallujah من الفلوجة

AFP's reported from the protests how many times, Prashant?

It's okay, you can use your right hand to count.  It's not like you need your right and your left hand to count.  The protests started in December and AFP has largerly ignored them except for the occasional sweeping generalization.

The reporting AFP is too lazy to do is instead done by  Iraqi Spring MC  -- here for Facebook, here for Twitter, here for Flickr.

Just like AFP and other outlets have gone out of their way to note what sparked the protests: women and girls being tortured and raped in Iraqi prisons and detention centers.

What reporters like Prashant Rao wouldn't tell, Iraqis could, columnists too, even Amnesty International -- see their report entitled [PDF format warning] "Iraq: A Decade of Abuses."

  Dr. Souad Al-Azzawi (URUKNET) explained is was being covered on TV -- Iraqi TV:

Al Maliki, occupation appointed Prime Minister of Iraq, appeared on Saturday, Feb. 2, 2013 on Arabia TV channel. The dialogue evolved around the protests of millions of Iraqis which have lasted more than 40 days. In this interview, Al Maliki emphasized that his government (occupation assigned) will not meet the demonstrators demands. He kept eluding and twisting facts about the humanitarian and justified demands the protesters. Nothing is unexpected in what he said or claimed because we all know in Iraq that he is an occupation puppet and would only serve American and Iranian occupation interests in Iraq.
What was disturbing and caught my attention was Maliki’s comments on the detention and torture of women in Iraqi prisons. He claimed that under law, a woman can be detained if she covers up the crimes of her husband. With this statement, Maliki claimed he had the answer to the angry protests all over Iraq calling for the release of all innocent women. Mothers, sisters, daughters and wives have been unjustly detained, tortured or raped, simply because they do not know the whereabouts of the men in their families. Thousands of women have been detained with no legal accusations. Some of them are imprisoned with their infants and children in unbearable prison conditions [1] just because Maliki claims that their husbands, brothers, or fathers have committed an act of terror.

Haifa Zangana (Guardian) wrote about the state of Iraqi women:

The plight of women detainees was the starting point for the mass protests that have spread through many Iraqi provinces since 25 December 2012. Their treatment by the security forces has been a bleeding wound – and one shrouded in secrecy, especially since 2003. Women have been routinely detained as hostages – a tactic to force their male loved ones to surrender to security forces, or confess to crimes ascribed to them. Banners and placards carried by hundreds of thousands of protesters portray images of women behind bars pleading for justice.

[. . .]

No wonder, ten years after the invasion, the Iraqi authorities are accused by US-based Human Rights Watch of "violating with impunity the rights of Iraq's most vulnerable citizens, especially women and detainees". HRW's account is echoed by a report by the Iraqi parliament's own human rights and women, family and children's committees, which found that there are 1,030 women detainees suffering from widespread abuse, including threats of rape.
Responding to these findings, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki threatened to "arrest those members of parliament who had discussed the violence against women detainees".

When did AFP report on any of this?

Answer: They didn't.

And, to our French readers, we urge you to share that throughout your country.  That AFP is covering up for rapes.  That AFP doesn't think rape is worthy of reporting.  Let's make sure everyone knows just what pigs AFP has sent to Baghdad.

Repeatedly, they ignore the most important details or report them a day after others have. 

If you're not getting how lazy they are, Saturday night after 7:00 pm PST, C.I. posted an entry which opened:

April 20th,  12 of Iraq's 18 provinces are scheduled to hold provincial elections.  Today?  Special voting for the security forces.  While they voted, All Iraq News reports, provincial candidate Hatam al-Dulaimi, with the Justice Party, was shot dead in Tirkit.

Prashant covered it too . . . He Tweeted about it on Sunday at 6:00 am PST.  

Iraqi Kurdish president's re-election plans spark criticism - in Sulaimaniyah:

AFP has become the police in a Tracy Chapman song, AFP "always comes late, if they come at all" ("Behind The Walls," first appears on Tracy Chapman's self-titled debut album).

TV: The Sewer Rises

The MPAA, Motion Picture Association of America, is an antiquated rating system for films that only makes news when the latest stooge is put in charge (currently Chris Dodd) or, as is more often the case, when its ludicrous ratings system results in controversy.  The biggest controversy is violence.  You can argue this is in part because the MPAA goes overboard with regards to two people interacting without guns.


Interaction?  Joey Lauren Adams and Carmen Llwelyn are kissing while standing up in a club in the Chasing Amy trailer.  The two women are not in bed, they are not disrobed.  But the MPAA refused to allow the 1997 film's trailer to be shown to G or PG or PG-13 audiences because of that kiss.

Did we just say PG-13?  If ever there was proof of the problems with the rating system it is with PG-13.  Following the violence in Gremlins and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, among others, parents complained loudly about the rating systems and the PG-13 rating was created.  This was created in response to complaints regarding violence yet the films immediately slapped with it were films like The Flamingo Kid and The Woman in Red that aren't violent.

We are seeing something similar take place in the 2012 - 2013 TV season.  Partners was a hilarious sitcom on CBS.  But CBS took the axe to the show immediately upon viewing a yet-to-air episode.  As we reported in December, that episode was "My Best Friend's Wedding Ring" and CBS refused to air it.  We explained there was no same-sex wedding in the episode, but the issue was discussed.

That was too much for CBS.  Upon viewing that episode, the show was immediately cancelled and pulled.  This is outrageous when you consider CBS to be the home to Maude, All In The Family and more. It's even more outrages since this is 2013.

In fairness to CBS, it was 2012 when they made the decision.  And apparently, they felt their own homophobia still reigned across the country.  No, it didn't.  As surveys demonstrate marriage equality has wide support.  But how very telling that CBS was willing to kill Partners because, in the words of of one CBS v.p., "We were afraid we were going to get caught on the wrong side of a heated public debate."  That was a concern.

And yet there's no concern at all over NBC's Hannibal.

It's just like the MPAA.

Hannibal is NBC's latest Thursday night hour long trauma.  It revolves around Dr. Hannibal Lecter, a character created in the novel Red Dragon by Thomas Harris.  Red Dragon has sold well over the years and is considered very popular; however, it was Harris' sequel, The Silence of the Lambs, which became a monster of trash fiction and paperback sales.  Efforts to turn the page-turner into a film were stymied by the script which was dark and morose leading participants such as would-be Hannibal Gene Hackman,  and would-be Clarice Starling's Michelle Pfeiffer and Meg Ryan to walk while the film was in development. Ted Tally finally cracked it.

In his Academy Award winning screenplay, Tally found ways to emphasize Starling and her odyssey which enhanced the overall journey and also added to the mystery of Hannibal the Cannibal.  Tally also found a wonderful rhythm for the scenes (that was falsely credited to director Jonathan Demme -- it was Tally and it's in the shooting script).  To get rid of a ton of exposition and keep the pace moving, Tally would end a scene early allowing the next scene to be the response.  The mechanics allowed the inherent homophobia of the project to be ignored resulting in huge box office, Anthony Hopkins winning a Best Actor Academy Award and Jodie Foster picking up a second Academy Award for the film despite the universal ridicule of  the very bad accent she utilized for the role.

With Foster scoring her first $100 million grosser and Anthony Hopkins on a career high, studios were eager to have a sequel.   Thomas Harris wasn't able to dash off a quick sequel so it would be eight years before his Hannibal was published.  It would quickly be filmed -- with Julianna Moore replacing Foster -- and released in 2001 when both she and Demme found the new material repugnant.   Hannibal did earn more dollars than The Silence of the Lambs; however, it needs to be remembered that Hannibal was released ten years later when ticket prices were considerably higher.  The Silence of the Lambs became the number one picture of its year, world-wide, based on box office.  Hannibal would be number ten.  Silence would be nominated for seven Academy Awards and to win Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Director, Best Screenplay and Best Picture.  There were no major nominations or awards for Hannibal.

The film was so out there that it destroyed the reception for Red Dragon the following year -- a far better film that grossed $100 million less at the box office.   This was followed by 2007's Hannibal Rising which bombed in the US but sold tickets worldwide (about half as many as Red Dragon allowing for approximately $50 million in international ticket sales). 

Along the way there was an October 2002 Saturday Night Live hosted by Matt Damon featuring a sketch entitled Hannibal Goes to College  because, frankly, the idea of the early days of Hannibal is laughable.

When it comes to laughable TV, one instantly thinks NBC.  In the 90s, NBC was the hottest network on broadcast television.  Friends, Seinfeld, Will and Grace, ER, Mad About You and more dominated the airwaves.  In the '00s, NBC thought whimsey and sexism were the way to go and it was the end of the network which now comes in regularly behind not just ABC, CBS and Fox but also behind Telemundo.  And it's this sewer dweller which brings us Hannibal.

Hannibal is Bryan Fuller's fifth attempt at a successful TV show.  Already, it feels like the other four bombs.  This one stars Hugh Dancy, a middle-aged actor who has been the leading man in one bomb after another and who, for some weird reason, despite being nearly six feet tall, films short.  Lacking in talent, Dancy appears to steal from Joe Queenan and go the Mickey Roarke For A Day Route.  And it's the 80s Roarke who squandered talents and refused to shower -- how Kim Basinger did repeatedly complain about his odor.

An exec at NBC argues with us, he insists that Dancy looks like an 80s gay porn actor.  The fact that even the NBC suits are noting how dated Dancy looks goes to the fact that Hannibal is an awful show.

Do we really need to get into the mind of a serial killer?

Fox has The Following with Kevin Bacon which revolves around a battel between a serial killer and a former FBI agent that's presented as evil versus good.  Bacon's character can be dark but his killing the killer of his father doesn't turn into sick and disgusting.

Hannibal, with its very title, embraces the darkness, wraps itself warmly around the evil.

The show's already bombing on Thursday nights.  We got into a loud argument with another NBC suit when we characterized the ratings as a bomb.  It comes in third!  That's what we were told.  But we're talking Thursday night after Scandal has wrapped up its season.  We're talking the last hour of prime time on Thursdays when nothing airs on Fox.   Last week,  it came in second, the suit smugly informed us.   Yes, it did.  When the only new episodes on broadcast network television were Elementary on CBS and Hannibal on NBC, Hannibal managed to come in second.  If we want to be really ridiculous, we can even point out that it increased its ratings -- by .02 million.

[Correction added April 20th, Ava and C.I.:  We spoke with three people at NBC -- execs -- for that article.  Above, we note that the hideous Hannibal came in second on a night when all the shows were repeats except CBS' Elementary.  A CBS friend corrected that Friday morning.  Elementary was a repeat.  That was our mistake and our bad.  We did not check it.  NBC told us it was a new episode (which may have been a simple mistake on their part or an attempt to make their Thursday night bomb seem like a hit) and we didn't check it.  Our apologies for the error.  Please note, even as a repeat, Elementary beat Hannibal.]

Yes, that is laughable.  Even when there's nothing else on, no one wants to watch this show.  In fact, it's interesting to compare it to other recent failures NBC has had on the same night at the same hour.  Take Prime Suspect which was a huge bomb.  Yet nine of Prime Suspect's 13 episodes did better in the ratings than Hannibal has so far.  And before NBC pulled Prime Suspect off of Thursday nights?  Only one episode scored lower than Hannibal in the ratings.

We told our friend, we don't want to get in the mind of a serial killer, we want to get into the mind of a trash purveyor, specifically his and his fellow NBC suits.  Why would anyone think that exposed organs on what turns out to be a living corpse covered in mushrooms and dirt is something anyone needs to see on their TV?

There is gore and there is sick crap that Hannibal's offering.  If this were Vampire Diaries, we wouldn't blink.  That's a horror genre all of its own.  But at a time when we, as a country, are supposedly alarmed by the embrace of violence among members of the public, why this sick, disgusting show made it onto network TV is a mystery to us.

Desperation.  That's what we learned.  NBC is so desperate to have a hit, it'll run after any car that speeds down the street.  It caught this one because it was cheap (it's also airing on Canadian TV) and because it was thought it had a built-in audience.

"Hannibal is a well loved literary character!" we were informed.

Please,  Emma Bovary, Larry Darrell and Nick Carraway are literary characters. Hannibal, by contrast, is more like a second cousin of Jim Varney's Ernest.

"C'mon, Will, I need my beauty sleep," whines Laurence Fishburne at one point to Dancy.  That passes for a sparkling exchange in this writing challenged material.  Then there are the long looks from Hannibal the Cannibal  (Mads Mikkelsen) as he makes comments like, "Well next time bring your wife.  I'd love to have you both for dinner."

It's so annoying and reminds us of the dated puns in A View To A Kill -- which were dated when the film was brand-new and why it was received so poorly.  However, that James Bond film was making puns about sex. This travesty broadcast into our homes is making puns about killing and eating people.

Hannibal is a sick and twisted character from trash fiction -- trash novels, trash films.  Making him the lead in a TV show is questionable.  Doing so in a TV show that, at best, embraces ethical ambiguity seems rather surprising in the midst of a national debate about violence.

The normalization of violence in a show like Hannibal -- normalized?  Hell, it glamorizes violence.  That sort of thing seems highly irresponsible.  But it's made onto network TV -- where fortunately most have avoided it -- and been treated as the norm.

This has taken place, please remember, in the same season, please remember, that a network took the axe to a sitcom because it felt the sitcom was promoting marriage equality.  We're not calling for the cancellation of Hannibal -- the lack of viewers should take care of that all by itself.  We're not calling for censorship.  We are, however, pointing out that a popular political position (marriage equality) freaks a network out this season and leads to an immediate cancellation.  CBS is so offended, it refuses to air the show the following Monday.  The network is so offended, it pulls the videos of the series from its website.  But you can do the most disgusting and graphic violence on the human body in a TV show that embraces a killer and that's okay?

If you're looking for reasons behind Newtown and other violence look no further than a society that treats as normal Partners being pulled for 'sexual content' and Hannibal being aired despite violent content.  And please grasp, we're not talking about the creators.  We defend art, even bad art.  We're talking about the reception to it.  And you can make a strong argument that Hannibal even getting on the air says tons about where we are as a society.  After over a decade of non-stop wars and two corrupt administrations (Bully Boy Bush and Barack), society needs to take good hard look at itself and what it's chosen to embrace -- even when embraced with silence and/or ignorance.

Congress and Veterans

Dona: Today the Valley News becomes the latest paper to carry US House Rep. Duncan Hunted and Concerned Veterans for America's Pete Hegseth's column for the Washington Post entitled "VA's Leaders Are Not Up to the Task and Need to Be Replaced."  Among those the column suggest need to be replaced?  Secretary of the VA Eric Shinseki.


Dona (Con't): The two men write,  "We recognize that replacing a Cabinet secretary is a dramatic step. But few things are more important than honoring the commitments our nation has made to its veterans. The president and VA officials have said all the right things, but they have not delivered."  Last week, Shinseki appeared before the House Veterans Affairs Committee to discuss the budget.  Kat, Wally, Ava and C.I. attended the hearing.  C.I. reported on it in "Iraq snapshot" and "Seamless transition? Shinseki wasted the last four years," while Ava reported in "Shinseki tries to present 134% increase as a gift for women," Wally with  "How the VA and DoD waste your tax dollars (Wally)" and Kat offered "DAV calls for Congress to reject 'chained CPI'."  Looking over those reports, what stands out first is the Committee Chair Jeff miller declaring that he's not seeing any improvements, "Mr. Secretary, we need to see results.  We need to see the outcomes the Administration promised with the resources Congress provided.  The excuses must stop.  I have supported you and your leadership up to this point.  I believe the Committee and the Congress has provided you with everything you have asked.  It's time to deliver."  I'm reading that as, at best, my support for you now is conditional.  At worst, you need to go.  Anyone else see different interpretations?

Ava: No.  I think you've captured it.  There is a sense of frustration with regards to Shinseki.  A kind of end-of-our-ropes feel.

Dona: Among Republicans, yes.  But Democrats?

Wally: Let me start there as a resident of Florida.  Can Corrinne Brown please step down from Congress?  Since she's unable and/or unwilling to fight for veterans, can she please step down.  She is still making excuses for the VA.  She's still using the hearing to distract.  And if you were in those hearings in 2007 and 2008, it was always, "The VA must improve, the VA must --" but now that a Democrat's in the White House, she's all excuses.  She is so embarrassing.

Ava: And then there's Tim Walz.

Dona: Right.  Ava, in your report you referenced him and his stupid -- and it was stupid -- remark where he spat on the American public to try to score a few points.  He's shameless.  But you also refer to an exchange with Bob Filner when Filner was on the Committee.  Explain about that.

Ava: In 2012, a hearing had the VA's Allison Hickey testifying and she was offering her usual nonsense, spin and outright lies.  Filner called her on it, called offering up a flow chart providing Congress with a plan and Timothy Walz jumps in screaming about how she's a veteran and blah blah blah.  And Bob Filner let him have it.

Dona: More people should.  He's shameless.  C.I., you know Bob Filner so I'm sure you included that in your report of that hearing.  Can you pull it up.

C.I.: Yes, this is Filner from the June 20, 2012 snapshot.

 House Veterans Affairs Committee Ranking Member Bob Filner: Now, by the way, Mr. [US House Rep Timothy] Walz -- now, Mr. Walz, she [VA Under Secretary Allison Hickey] doesn't need your defense here for her past accomplishments. And I don't need a lecture from you of her past.  We're talking about what she's going to do for the VA now. I'll stipulate any accomplishments that she's had. I respect her service.  But if she can't do this job, I don't care what she has done in the past.  Okay? So don't lecture me about how I don't have respect for someone's past.  She's talking about the future -- the present and the future.  And she didn't give one answer or one recognition that there was any problem -- in all her testimony, in every answer.  This Chairman [Marlin Stutzman] asked her a number of things. She talked for three-and-a-half minutes and didn't give the answer and still doesn't know the answer.  So let's talk about what she's doing right here and right now.  And I said if one of your veterans -- And she didn't answer your question, your very good questions, Mr. Walz, about the time period of what's going on in Minneapolis?  She just said, 'Oh, from time to time we have surges.'  You asked are we heading toward a lowest common denominator and she never answered that.  So don't -- I mean be a little more critical of the kind of answers we're getting.  We don't have a plan. This whole hearing was about a plan.  If I were her, I would have given out the plan.  But we still don't have one.  Again, Ms. Hickey, if I were you, leadership comes from the top. The top is saying, "There is no problem."  You ask any veteran in my district, in Mr. Walz' district, in Mr. [Mike] Michaud's district, in Mr. Stutzman's district: Is there a problem?  Every one will say, "Yes."  Now you can say, 'They don't understand fully.  Their perception is wrong, we've had a surge of this.  We did this.  We had the Vietnam era.'  I don't care what -- you have not either acknowledged the problem or say how we're going to get out of it.  You gave us an assurance of a date.  And Mr. Walz asked --  I know it's not a very bright question -- 'Are you committed? Is it going to happen?'  What is she going to say?  "No"?  We've had these questions, we've had these committments for years and years and years and years.  And Mr. Walz asked you another softball question: 'Has anything been tried as this big before?  We have tried every single thing that you have as your initiatives -- has been tried.   Every one of them at some point.  In fact, we've had far more comprehensive plans than your forty initiatives lumped together.  Nothing has worked.  It's gotten worse.  And you refuse to admit it.  You refuse to acknowledge it.  And you don't give us a plan to fix it.  What am I to think? 'Well, she was an Air Force General that did great things.'  If it doesn't happen by 2015, are you going to say I resign or what's going to happen if you're at the top?  And it's always two or three years out.  It's never, "I'm going to do this tomorrow."  You've been working on this.  Your predecessor's been working on this.  I don't have any assurance.  You can't even correct a date on the computer for a year-and-a-half and you call it a "glitch."  What confidence do I have that you can do anything if it took a year-and-a-half to fix a "glitch?"  The simplest thing.  Put a date in.  You could have done it by hand in a few months.  It took you a year-and-a-half.  You still haven't done it.  I'm sure we'll get a memo from you -- I just bet, you want to make a bet right now -- that you'll ask for another extension.  I just bet.  When's that going to be done?  Why should we have any confidence in 2015 that a system of a million backlog is going to be fixed when we can't even get a "glitch" fixed in a year-and-a-half?  What gives me the confidence?  That you were an Air Force General?  Sorry, it doesn't work. Give me some confidence.  What has worked so far?  Everything has been a problem.

Dona: I would have hoped Walz would have learned from that moment but apparently, like the wig-hatted Corrine Brown, he wants to self-embarrass and self-shame every hearing.  So the Dems on the Committee are going to cover for him?

Kat: I don't think so.  I think the two worst are Brown and Walz and they are covering.  But you don't get the sense from others that they're going to cover.  It's more of a I-can't-believe-you've-been-in-charge-for-four-years.  Because there is no accomplishment.  On every measure, the VA has gotten worse.  I believe Miller made that point in the hearing, about how there's nothing they can point to and say, "Okay, well you had success here."

Dona: Alright.  C.I., I understand there's a section of your report in the snapshot that you edited.  That's fine, no problem and I don't even need to know about it but since Kat told me about it, I thought I'd throw it out.

C.I.: That's fine.  Gus Bilirakis did a poor job in my opinion.  And I edited that section to soften it because was it fair to him?  In it's original form I threw him against the wall for not knowing several things.  And the reason I feel he should have known is that he took the seat from his father.  Until 2007, Michael Bilirakis was the seat holder. And after I dictated it, I said, "Remind me to come back to that section," and I went on with the snapshot and then went back and made the language less outraged.  Is it fair to expect him to know information about the push for an electronic record which would allow a seamless transition from DoD to VA?  It's been covered while he's been on the Committee.  But was I expecting too much to assume he would have discussed this with his father?  I don't know?  But I softened the language as a result.

Dona: Okay, seamless transition.  You join the military and are a service member.  You leave and your records go over to VA.  If they're not lost.   If they're not this or that.  Seamless transition is based upon the idea that an electronic record can be created for the service member when he or she joins the military and it will follow them through their military career on over to the VA when they leave the service.  This would save money and time.  And Congress has been funding and talking about this forever.  It's supposed to be nearly complete but this year the VA announced it wouldn't happen that they had other things to do.  This shocked Congress and VA backpedaled.  Where does it stand now, C.I.?

C.I.: The same place it stood in 2005.  They've done nothing.  Eric Shinseki has appeared before Congress for the last four years insisting it was on track and blah blah.  But last week, he lets slip in his testimony that they still haven't decided whether to use DoD's system or VA's.  That matters because the reason they couldn't just start the electronic record is that DoD's system can't communicate with VA's system.  So the first step in this process is determining which system will be used.  And they haven't done that.  All this time later.  So they haven't done a damn thing which I find outrageous.

Dona: And, Wally, you emphasized that from both a cost and management persepctive.

Wally: Right.  How can you be the one in charge for four years, take money for a project, tell Congress you are on it, that you are progressing and you've never taken the first step?

Dona: In your report, you offered a comparison.

Wally: Yeah.  And I'll offer another here.  The electronic record?  Think of it as the nursery.  You and I are having a baby.  You say, "I need you to paint the walls so we can fix up a nursery.  Then we'll move the furniture in there."  Every week you say, "How's that painting coming, honey?"  And every week, I say, "I'm on it, dear."  Then one week, you walk in and it's still not painted.  And you ask me about it and I say I still haven't bought the paint.  That's what Shinseki going before Congress last week, after four years in office and four years of telling Congress he was working on the electronic record, declaring that they still hadn't decided whether to use DoD's computer system or the VA's.  This is the first decision you make.  Everything else will follow.

Dona: Gotcha. So how did he get away with it?

Ava: Lack of oversight.

Kat: Agreed.  He tells Congress, repeatedly, that he's working on it.  They ask.  Did Barack Obama ever ask?  He is the one over Shinseki.  Seems like he should have asked a few times in the last four years, "Where are we with this seamless transition?"  C.I. argued in her report that Barack needs to have a meeting with Shinseki and Chuck Hagel, Defense Secretary, and declare, "We are going to use ___ system."  Either DoD or VA's system.  That Barack needs to make that decision and then they need to follow it.  I agree with that.  And Wally's illustration just now about a nursery was even better than his earlier one.  This is foot dragging, this is wasting time and taxpayer money.  There's no excuse for it.

Dona: Kat, in your report, you noted that along with  Disabled American Veterans'  rejecting the White House proposal for "chained CPI," you also noted that the American Legion raised attention to VA centers that could be closed.

Kat: Yes, the Legion identified 15 centers that will close under Barack Obama's proposed budget.   They are:  Albuquerque, New Mexico; Brick, New Jersey; Charleston, South Carolina; Cobb County, Georgia; Honolulu, Hawaii; Lafayette, Louisiana; Lake Charles, Louisiana; New Port Richey, Florida; Ponce, Puerto Rico; San Antonio, Texas; West Haven, Connecticut; Worchester, Massachusetts; Johnson County, Kansas; San Diego, California; and Tyler, Texas.  I emphasized Lake Charles because we've visited that area to speak about the wars repeatedly and I also knew it to have a strong minority demographic -- it turns out, I didn't know this until I was writing up the hearing, it's actually a minority-majority community -- meaning Anglo Whites make up less than 50% of the population.  So it's really shocking to me that Lake Charles, which predominately serves Africa-American veterans would be on the chopping block.  I also heard, after my piece went up, from veterans in Smith County and Cherokee County.  So, if there's time --

Dona: We will make time, go on.

Kat: Well Tyler, Texas is in Smith County.  Cherokee County is right below it.  Van Zandt County is to the east.  Let's say that you're in Canton, Texas, okay?  This is an example from one veteran who is in Canton.  He can drive one hour and 20 minutes and reach the city limits of Dallas then spend 30 minutes in traffic getting to Dallas' VA Center which is in the undeveloped area -- south Dallas has traditionally been ignored and shorted by the city which wants to move north -- and that expansion has everything to do with south Dallas being predominately African-America.  Or he can drive 45 minutes to reach Tyler and 12 more minutes to reach the Tyler VA Center.   Cherokee County residents go there, Smith County goes there and Gregg County which is to the west, also goes there.  I don't understand how they can justify pulling that clinic.  And I'm going to toss to C.I.

C.I.: When Kat's report went up, I heard from three different people who are community members.  One is in Whitehouse which borders Tyler on the south.  She made the point that her son is deployed right now.  He is returning to the area in 8 months when his deployment is up and he's not planning on re-enlisting.  The other two were making similar points.  And my point here is that Tyler's not a big city.  It's a nice city.  It's known for its yearly rose festival among other things.  But what Tyler is is -- it's a city surrounded by small towns.  What the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars have shared is that many of the people who've enlisted have come from rural areas.  If you look at all the small times that surround Tyler and Smith County, that's a huge number and that's what the three e-mailing were concerned about.  They feel like there are already enough veterans in the area and that as the drawdown from Afghanistan takes place, you are going to see hundreds more veterans returning who would be accessing the Tyler facility.

Dona: Alright, thank you Kat and C.I., very informative.  Let's wind down by going back to Shinseki.  Wally, will start with you, should he step down and do you think he will?

Wally: He should.  He's been a disaster.  I would recommend  people read C.I.'s "Seamless transition? Shinseki wasted the last four years," which details the first major mistake Shinseki made -- with regards to the GI Bill -- and how this is a pattern.  I could go into all of that but you said "winding down."

Dona: I did say we were winding down.

Wally: I don't think he'll resign.  I don't think he'll be asked to.  The hallmark of Barack's tenure as president has been a repeated lack of accountability.

Dona: Alright, Kat, I'm going to you.

Kat: Yes, he should resign.  He's demonstrated a lack of leadership, a lack of oversight and I would argue a pattern of dishonesty -- like Wally said, see that report by C.I. where she talks about how Shinseki knew in January 2009 that veterans would not be getting their college checks in August and September of 2009.  He knew over 8 months ahead of time that this would be happening and he didn't inform Congress.  So he needs to go.  Will he?  No.

Dona: Ava?

Ava: I love how we're each slipping in the point of C.I.'s report -- into our answers.

Dona: I noticed that too.

Ava: So let me grab where Kat left off, not only did he know but when the problem emerged he allowed the VA to blame veterans and say they'd filed their paper work wrong and when that got him in trouble he allowed the VA to then blame the colleges.  The only one to blame was the VA.  He should go.  I have no idea whether he will or not.

Dona: C.I.?

C.I.:  Yes, he should go.  I think he should have gone in October of 2009 when he told Congress he learned of the problem in January and even hired an outside consultant who verified it.  He did not then inform Congress -- they never knew there was problem until the press was reporting on the scandal.  And worse, he didn't inform veterans.  I want to remind everyone that in real time, the press was reporting in December and January about veterans who were having to tell their kids Christmas would come in early 2010 and they had to do that because they still didn't have their college tuition checks for the now ended fall semester.  That's inexcusable.  Will he go? I don't know.  Shinseki's Chief of Staff, John Gingrich, just got forced out at the end of March.  That's a sign that there is administration pressure, pressure from the White House.  But whether Gingrich will be the token fall guy or the first of many to be held accountable, I don't know.

Dona: Alright.  Thank you everyone.  Let me note that this is a rush transcript so enjoy any and all typos.  Our e-mail address is Remember, that's our new e-mail address.  We are not checking the old one.

Tour of the '00s

The zeros, the aughts, the decade that just passed.  Not one known for music.  Not one known for singing.  At the start of the decade, there was a hint of just how cruel the decade would be to music.  It happened when the decade's best tour was getting advance press.

 diana 5

Diana Ross had spent the sixties touring with the Supremes, the seventies solo, the eighties solo and the nineties solo.  In doing so, she'd become one of the few female artists that could hit the road and pack in an audience.  James Taylor would be the male equivalent but people pay a lot more for a Diana concert.  Maybe because she had a lot more hits?

41 singles on the Hot 100, 51 songs on the R and B 100,  30 hits on the AC  top 50, and 18 hits on the dance charts (including 1999's number two hit "Until We Meet Again").  All of these after she began her solo career.  This was after she had sang lead on 25 top forty singles with her group the Supremes. 

So in 1999, as she prepared for her 2000 tour, an idea from friend Scott Sanders to feature a Supremes segment in the new tour became an idea to bring on the Supremes.  Diana wanted to bring all the living Supremes from after the trio of Diana, Mary Wilson and Florence Ballard first hit the charts.  That would include Cindy Birdsong who replaced Florence, Jean Terrell and Lynda Laurence who joined the group in 1970 after Diana went solo, Scherrie Payne who replaced both Jean and Lynda and Susaye Greene who replaced Cindy Birdsong in 1976.

As usual, where there are good intentions with the Supremes, there is Mary Wilson, always lurking, always attempting to destroy.  By this point in her sad life, she'd killed her 14-year-old son Rafael with her bad driving, rumors of alcoholism plagued her, a 'behind the scenes expert' was rumored to be her same-sex lover that Mary was allegedly desperate to keep hidden, and she was floating one check after another while desperately pleading for money from anyone who'd ever toured with her decades before.

While most -- including a famous songwriting team -- had long ago learned to hang up on her, Diana had always opened her purse to Mary -- including when Mary needed money to keep a house.  Like Florence Ballard before her, Mary's had non-stop financial struggles.  And the many decades since the sixties had not been kind to Mary who never found recording success as a solo act and who's only performances sold as sad nostalgia.  Mary really needed the money -- almost as badly as twenty years before when she borrowed $30,000 from Diana to avoid being homeless.

So the idea of a tour with all the Supremes seemed like a winner.

 diana 1

Diana made the deal with what is now Live Nation Entertainment and informed the various Supremes to contact them and work out details.  The only detail that mattered to Mary was money and $500,000 for 30 concerts wasn't enough for Mary.  That came to over $17,000 a concert and, no, Mary hadn't seen a payday like that before in her life.  Live Nation finally offered Mary $2 million for 30 concerts.  That would have been over $60,000 a concert.

It wasn't enough for her.

Mary Wilson, for those who don't know, sang briefly on recordings in the sixties.  Due to her affairs with Tom Jones and others, Mary was often unavailable for scheduled recording sessions.  Berry Gordy has been very kind over the years and worded that very carefully but that's why Berry began using backup vocalists.  It was a lot quicker and a lot cheaper to just send two backup singers into the studio with Diana to record.  Though she knew she didn't sing on, for example, the number one hit "Love Child," Mary was always quick to claim the money for it.  Greed, more than anything explained Mary Wilson.

In 1970, Diana went solo and Jean Terrell replaced her as lead singer.  The group scored six top forty hits over three years.  From 1968 on, Mary had always (wrongly) thought that when Diana left the group, she would become lead singer.  With Jean as lead singer, Mary began whining and griping about singing background vocals.  This led to Mary sharing co-leads on singles and led to Jean leaving the group.  (Jean Terrell also felt that when the group needed to be demanding Motown promote them more, Mary always caved to Berry and backed down.)  When Jean left, there were no more big hits for the group.  Scherrie Payne would join as a lead singer only to also experience Mary's "me too! I sing lead too!" nonsense.  The only hit the group had with Scherrie was "I'm Gonna Let My Heart Do The Walking" which made it to number forty on the Hot 100.

Mary Wilson quit the group in 1977.  She went on to pursue a solo recording career which consists of two studio albums -- 1979's Mary Wilson and 1992's Walk The Line -- which bombed.  She could also be found in many Canadian provinces doing dinner theater.  Outside of royalties from Motown for her time with Diana Ross and the Supremes, Mary rarely earned $40,000 most years.

So the amount of money she was turning down was huge.

Live Nation was negotiating with her.  Diana had nothing to do with it.  But when Diana learned Mary had said the $2 million was not enough, Diana offered to kick in $2 million out of her own pocket.  Diana saw it as money paid to avoid continued aggravation and as a gift to the fans.

 diana 3

Four million dollars was now being offered to Mary Wilson.  For 30 concerts.  Over $130,000 a concert.  A payday like she'd never seen before.

The thing with Mary is that her ego is stronger than her memory.  Her memory sometimes forget that, for example, she fired Florence Ballard from the Supremes.  In the meeting Berry called, Berry noted Florence had missed too many shows, had been on stage drunk and that this couldn't continue so she was out of the group. Florence's mother turned to Mary and said Mary wanted Flo to stay in the group.  In her own first bad book, Mary writes that she said, "Mrs. Ballard, Flo doesn't want to be in the group anymore.  Yes, I want her in the group but what can I do? She no longer wants us."

That's a cute way of avoiding saying, "You're fired."  But it says "you're fired" just the same.

When Mary was having one of her many affairs and begging off work in the sixties, Berry warned her that she'd better work while she could because there would come a day where all the magic would be gone.  Mary would have done well to remember that bit of advice.

She didn't.  Besides, she was high on herself.

With all the drama she was causing, she was upstaging the planned tour itself.  Reporters were calling her, Nightline wanted to do a segment with her.

Mary who was never famous in her own right ("Diana Ross and the two girls" is not fame) saw this as her big moment.  Like a reality TV star mistaking headlines for a career, Mary plunged in, determined to destroy the tour.

So she passed on $4 million at a time when she desperately needed it.  And she went to work destroying the tour.

Diana prepared to tour with Scherrie Payne and Lynda Laurence after Birdsong and Wilson passed.  Mary immediately began insisting that this wasn't the Supremes!

Strange because, in the 70s, when Mary sang with the two women, they were billed as the Supremes, they recorded as the Supremes.  Suddenly, they weren't good enough to be Supremes, according to Mary.

 Diana 4

Return To Love, as the tour was known, was a gift for the fans.  Especially the Diana fans who were tired of the Supremes medley in concerts.  Diana has a huge catalogue of solo hits.  It's so huge that she can't perform them all in concert.  So when she covers her pre-solo career hits, it's generally done in a quick medley.  

Suzanne dePasse's keen sense had once again saved Motown.  While other sixties hits from the period tended to fade or re-emerge briefly, de Passe knew how to license and market an older hit.  She did it in such a way that, for example, "Reflections" would find a whole new audience as the theme song to China Beach.  These songs were still popular and were newly popular.

Return To Love would give the audience a chance to hear them live for the first time in over thirty years -- for the first time since Diana Ross and the Supremes' farewell performance in Las Vegas on January 14, 1970.

The show opened in Philadelphia and won a rave review from J.D. Considine (Balitmore Sun).

And that's because it was a great show.  Solo, Diana performed a few of her number ones such as "Touch Me In The Morning" and "Ain't No Moutain High Enough," but the bulk of the show was the Supremes: "Reflections," "Come See About Me," "You Can't Hurry Love," "Baby Love," "Stop In The Name Of Love," etc.

At the start of the tour, during the final number ("I Will Survive"), Diana would bring a person on stage from the audience but, as the tour continued, it became a regular dance floor as people crowed onstage.  Another thing that changed as the tour continued was Diana's interaction with the audience.

Unlike Barbra Streisand, Diana's never needed a telepromter at a concert and has never needed to have her words scripted for her.  She can think on her feet and does.  And as the concert continued, she spoke more and more outside of the inspirational moment -- where Diana would talk about how society has changed, MLK, etc.  And during the non-inspirational part, people would sometimes shout at things (like "I love you!") or song requests.  As the tour progressed, Diane would often turn to towards the band and ask if they knew the song or, more often, "Can we do that?"  If  the band started nodding, she started singing -- songs like "When The Lovelight Starts Shining Through His Eyes" and "Some Things You Never Get Used To."

 diana 2

It was no longer a concert, it was an event or, to borrow from a 1968 number one hit, a "happening."  It was Diana at her most relaxed, it was Scherrie and Lynda providing some strong vocals (as well as taking a lead turn themselves).  It was the audience up on its feet dancing.

And Mary continued attempting to destroy it.

Halfway into the tour, it got the axe.  The sold out show in Madison Square Garden would be the last.  Live Nation swore that ticket sales weren't there.  A rather dubious claim since the NYC concert would be heavily reported on and lead to sales in other markets.  A rather dubious claim because Diana was willing to complete the tour at a personal loss.  (But not willing to agree to give Live Nation her next two tours.  When she said no to that, Live Nation axed the tour.)

For fourteen shows, Return To Love grabbed audiences and made memories.

That alone would qualify it as the tour of that decade.  But the other thing, the lies of Mary Wilson and how they were allowed to take over reality?

That also makes it the tour of the decade.

Remember, this was the decade when the Bully Boy Bush administration would sell an illegal war with lies.   Just like Mary helped kill a successful tour with lies.

So it's only fitting that Return To Love be the tour of the '00s -- just as it was fitting that Mary Wilson enlisted in the Bush administration becoming its "culture  ambassador."  Reportedly in Mozambique and elsewhere, the most asked question of Mary was, "What's Diana Ross like?"  We see that as fitting as well.  (After all, it would have been rude to ask Mary, "Who are you, again?")


All illustrations are from the tour booklet which was the size of a vinyl album cover and contained many amazing photos.

Photo of the week

From Fallujah من الفلوجة

Protests continue in Iraq as Iraqi's fight for basic rights and basic services.  Despite the billions of dollars coming in each month from oil revenues, the Iraqi people are still without drinkable water and continuous electricity.  Heavy rains mean flooding because Nouri has failed to put money into the sewer system.  Nouri targets his political rivals and he resorts to mass arrests of people who are guilty of nothing and are never charged but disappear into what passes for 'justice' in Nouri's Iraq.  The photo above is from Falluja's Friday protest and the sign says it all, "IRAQ has become the Wild West, Land with NO LAW." Photo is by Iraqi Spring MC -- they remain the go to source for coverage of the protests so  here for Facebook, here for Twitter, here for Flickr.

Paul Ryan's now just Miss Congenality

US House Rep. Paul Ryan is known for many things but his secret weapon is, quite honestly, his looks.  His looks have led to a series of "hey girl" posts (such as this one)  which may humanize Ryan more than many Democrats would wish.

In 2011 and 2012, all Democrats could do was whine.  Not a stunning cover boy in the bunch.  But the 2012 elections changed that.

Seems like smart partisans would have noted and already begun a Tumblr page for the Dems' man of the moment.

beto orourke

That's Beto O'Rourke who represents Texas' 16th Congressional District.  Before winning the general election, O'Rourke had to first beat incumbent Silvestre Reyes in a primary challenge.  As Chris Roberts (El Paso Times) notes, Reyes didn't run just any ad against O'Rourke accusing Beto of being pro-drunk, pro-drunk and pro-spanking ("was recently videotaped publicly intoxicated being spanked").

It all seems so much more exciting than anything Paul Ryan could offer.

Don't Look Her Over: Sheena Easton

Long before there was American Idol and when Simon Cowell was still in puberty, the BBC was airing The Big Time.  The 1980 crops of contenders included a singer named Sheena Easton. Sheena was followed around as she tried to become a professional singer -- including performing "I Can See Clearly Now" at a dentists' dinner in Glasgow.   As her part on the show wrapped up, the Scottish singer was seen recording "Modern Girl."

It was a travesty.  Team Sheena gave her a Pat Benatar haircut and put her in one of Pat's jumpsuits from that era.  Worse than trying to give her someone else's look, the production of the song buries Sheena's vocals under a choir of backup singers to the point that you might wonder if she can even carry a tune.  (Here for the video.)

Fortunately, post-The Big Time, she had "9 to 5"  which became a hit in England and, as "Morning Train (9 to 5)," a big hit in the US.  The song would reach number one in Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United States.  The pluses for this single?  The catchy tune saved the choir of singers for the chorus.  So, during the verses, if you listened carefully to the poorly mixed single, you could hear a talented singer.  Also, the hair was now curled.  It wasn't really a look but it distanced her from the Pat Benatar knock-off allegations.  The minuses?  Team Sheena still seemed afraid of the voice of their singer.  They also had no idea who she was.  "Modern Girl" found Sheena boasting,  "I don't build my world round no single man but I'm getting by doing what I can."  Yet in the very next single, she's heard singing, "He works from nine to five again to find me waiting for him."

This confusion would lead to Sheena Easton (US) and Take My Time (UK).  Not since the Beatles had a British artist released albums so different as it crossed the Atlantic.  (And like the Beatles, she was on EMI.)  For example, "When He Shines." That single made it to number 12 in the UK, number 30 on the US Hot 100 and number 13 on the US Adult Contemporary charts.  Brits who bought Sheena's first album (Take My Time) heard it on the collection.  Americans would have to wait for Sheena's second album You Could Have Been With Me, to get the song. They'd also have to wait until that album to really hear Sheena's vocals up front in the mix.

 sheena easton

By the time the title track of her second album was becoming her fifth American top forty hit, she'd already gone top ten with the James Bond them "For Your Eyes Only"  -- which Lindell Kay (Jacksonville Daily News)  picked as the best Bond theme last month.

And, by that time, she was already known around the world.  She'd discuss attending the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama with Dick Clark on American Bandstand.  She'd toured the world but was just getting started with her career that would find her working with Prince, Kenny Rogers, Bruce Hornsby (he played keyboards on her 1985 tour) and Joan Baez among others.

Up to Madness, Money and Music you can easily hear her working with Kenny Rogers. Their 1983 duet, "We've Got Tonight," hit number one on the US Country charts and on Canada's country chart and Canada's adult contemporary chart.  (It also made it to number 6 on the US Hot 100 and number two on the US adult contemporary chart.)   Following that hit, she recorded Best Kept Secret -- her first album without Christopher Neil producing, and showed a whole other side.  "Telefone (Long Distance Love Affair)" would not just be a top ten hit but it and "Devil in a Fast Car" would point the way to more dance oriented songs in the future.  She didn't forget the ballads, scoring a hit with "Almost Over You" (number 25 on the US Hot 100).

She'd follow that up with an ambitious Spanish album (Todo Me Recuerda a Ti) which reworked her best known hits into Spanish and with A Private Heaven which managed to shock a lot of Americans including Tipper Gore.  The wife of then-Senator Al Gore was outraged by the song Prince had written for Sheena, "Sugar Walls,"  as was televangelist Jimmy Swaggart.  Tipper founded the Parents' Music Resource Council to 'combat' music like what Sheena was making.

As Don Keko (Examiner) noted last year:

 After joining forces with her three partners, Gore and the PMRC released the “filthy fifteen.” This list contained 15 songs the group found objectionable. The list targeted sex in Prince’s “Darling Nikki”, Sheena Easton’s “Sugar Walls”, Judas Priest’s “Eat Me Alive”, Vanity’s “Strap on Robbie Baby”, AC/DC’s “Let Me Put My Love Into You”, Madonna’s “Dress You Up”, W.A.S.P.’s classic “Animal (F**k Like a Beast)”, The Mary Jane Girl’s “In My House”, and Cyndi Lauper’s ode to masturbation “She Bop.” The group also targeted violent songs such as Motley Crue’s “Bastard” and Twisted Sister’s “We’re Not Gonna Take It.” Black Sabbath’s “Trashed” and Def Leppard’s “High and Dry” were cited for encouraging drug and alcohol abuse. Meanwhile, Venom‘s “Possessed” freaked out the PMRC with references to the occult.

In her book Raising PG Kids in an X-Rated Society, Tipper would complain that the song was "about female sexual arousal, [and[ was an even bigger hit on Top 40 radio stations."  Sheena's reaction to "Sugar Walls" was much more positive.  She explained to Q in 1991 that she'd been asking Prince to write a song for her and, "It flipped me out! Ohmigod, it's so perfect! I called him up, and he said, 'Would you like to come over and sing it?' So I went in and did the vocals after I'd had a Super Bowl Sunday barbecue at my house.  I won 50 bucks on the Super Bowl and got to do a vocal with Prince -- a big day for me!"

 Another big day for her was March 2, 1985.  The History Channel explains she set a Billboard record on that date:

The controversial Prince-penned song "Sugar Walls" reaches #9 on Billboard magazine's R and B Singles chart on March 2, 1985, and makes Sheena Easton the first and still only recording artist to score top-10 singles on all five major Billboard singles charts: Pop, Country, Dance, Adult Contemporary and R and B. 
 To be fair, this same feat might have been achieved by Elvis Presley had the Dance chart existed during his heyday. But that is not to take anything away from Easton, who in her journey from the sweet and innocent "Morning Train (9 to 5)" to the salacious "Sugar Walls" accomplished a degree of crossover success that even such notorious musical shape-shifters as Madonna, Cher and Olivia Newton-John never matched. And it is also fair to point out Elvis Presley never matched Sheena Easton's additional feat of squeezing in a Grammy for Best Mexican-American Performance (for 1985's "Me Gustas Tal Como Eres"). For the record, the hits that helped Sheena Easton achieve her five-way Billboard record were, in order of release: the aforementioned 1981 Pop and Adult Contemporary hit "Morning Train (9 to 5)"; the 1983 Dance hit "Telefone (Long Distance Love Affair)"; the 1983 Country hit "We've Got Tonight" (a duet with Kenny Rogers); and the infamous 1985 R and B hit "Sugar Walls."

A Private Heaven was a huge album for her. A million seller in the US, the album spawned the number nine hit "Sugar Walls" (number 1 on the dance chart, number 3 on the R and B chart) and the number 7 "Strut" as well as the number 80 "Swear."  The new audience that "Telefone" had hinted at was now present.  And then Sheena made a huge mistake: Working with Nile Rogers.

Nile Rogers was a force to be reckoned with in the 70s as part of Chic.  Alone?  Not really so much.  With Bernard Edwards, he'd produced the 1980 classic diana (which Diana Ross remixed leading him to demand his name be removed -- until it ended up becoming the most successful music he was ever connected to).  And this had been followed by one mistake after another: 1981's Koo Koo (Debbie Harry), 1983's Invitation to Dance (Kim Carnes), 1984's Original Sin (INXS), 1985's She's The Boss (Mick Jagger).  While those flopped, he had success with David Bowie (1983's Let's Dance) and Madonna (1984's Like A Virgin).  If you examine the pattern, you're left with passionate singers and Niles do not mix.  But Bowie trying to butch it up and Madonna going mechanical can translate as hits.  Sheena had too much fire and power for Nile so their 1985 collaboration Do You was a real disappointing follow up to A Private Heaven.

Just one year before, she'd been singing passionate, cutting edge songs.  Now she teams up with Niles and he's got her remaking the 60s Motown hit "Jimmy Mack"?  The song made it to number 65 on the US Hot 100 but it was a disappointment and reviewers tended to blame Sheena for the song and not Nile.  The song (which she sings beautifully) was considered as dated as the braided tail she was wearing -- at a time when Aimee Mann had long cut off her thin braid.  The other single, "Do It For Love," made it to number 29 on the US Hot 100.  Even so, Nile's indifferent production and non-danceable drones (which he would resurrect for Diana Ross' Workin' Overtime album in 1989) did serious damage.

Sheena was helped out in 1986 by About Last Night . . .  The Demi Moore and Rob Lowe starring film was not a huge hit but it was a hit and a hit with young people.  So having two prominently featured songs in the film -- "So Far, So Good" (which went to 43 on the Hot 100) and "Natural Love" -- helped Sheena walk back some of the loss the sixties cover had done.

Realizing her audience was interested in the future and not the past, Sheena went to work on No Sound But A Heart only to see EMI refuse to release it in the US.  She went into the studio with Prince and recorded "U Got The Look" for his Sign Of The Times album.  Susan Rogers, the album's engineer, would tell Rolling Stone, "Sheena just happened to be around.  He said, 'How'd you like to do this? Feel like singing?' It was very spontaneous."   The single would leap to number 2 on the US Hot 100.  She used the momentum to move on to MCA with The Lover In Me.   In the February 25, 1989 edition of Melody Maker, Steve Sutherland weighed in:

Pronouncing Prince a genius may not strike you as the most original notion ever conceived but I eel the sheer frequency of his creations may have lulled us into complacency regarding his greatness.
Few, if any, can exist at his altitude so, bereft of comparison, we take him for granted, but, when he comes among lesser mortals, as he does on "The Lover In Me," the magnitude of his superiority over his contemporaries is suddenly, startling apparent.
Prince produces two songs on Sheena's LP and I suspect he wrote and played them as well under the pseudonym Joey Coco. "101" is a torture chamber of brooding need.  It's reminiscent of Eurthymics at their most cutting and, miraculously, Sheena is pushed to explosions of passion.  Compare the brutality of "Nothing on TV/My girlfriends bore me" with the cliched "I wanna be your fire/ I wanna be your rain" from elsewhere on the album and Prince's weird, fresh perspective on the blessed curse of love has never been clearer.

This was a Sheena album to fall in love with and then some.  The title track hit number 2 on the US Hot 100 and number 2 on the US dance chart.  "101" -- written by Prince under the name Joey Coco -- went to number two on the US dance chart. 

Doing TV commercials for a Bally's Total Fitness (which utilized "Love In Me") and appearing as Don Johnson's bride on Miami Vice certainly helped raise awareness of the album but it may also have been a bit much as the audience appeared to be walking away.  Miami Vice was no longer 'hot' and playing Sonny's bride took away from whatever musical statement she was hoping to make with the album.

To give you an example of just how unhot Don Johnson had become, two years before The Love In Me was released, Joan Baez was lusting over him in her book A Voice To Sing With, swearing  the sight of him at Live Aid gave her hot flash  -- just nine pages before Queen Jane Approximately once again reminds the world what an ass she can be:

[. . .] and Sheena appears to our left.  We are barely finishing up our little contribution when Sheena takes the mike with a quiet ferocity, leans away from us, and in a splendid two lines works out all her frustration at not performing, but only speaking as a hostess.  Well, not all of her frustration.  She hoards the microphone like a newly discovered family heirloom and sings our trio as a solo, leaving me leaning awkwardly toward the unavailable mike and Chrissie completely out of range.

Chrissie is Chrissie Hynde who's never had a problem sticking up for herself and probably doesn't care for Baez painting her as a victim.

The Lover In Me wasn't the last of Sheena's hits.  She'd hit the top forty in both England and the US dueting with Prince on "The Arms of Orion" and hit the top 20 solo in 1991 with "What Comes Naturally."  But that was the end of the run.  (2000's "Giving Up Giving In" hit the British charts making it up to number 54.)

In the middle of her chart running streak, Sheena told Dick Clark (American Bandstand, 1985),  "It's like something in you goes, 'Ah, you mean it's over?'  You've got to the highest.  You've peaked.  And always I think, 'Oh no! Am I going to have another hit?' It always goes through your brain."

It was a glorious and spectacular run.  In 11 years of charting, she scored 21 hits on the US Hot 100, 15 of which went top 40.  She hit the AC top forty chart 12 times and the top 40 on the dance chart nine times.  In England, she had 20 songs make the top 100 and eleven go into the top forty.  If Sheena were finishing up her eleven-year-run today or if she'd finished it up in 1979, she'd be seen as what she is, a talented and very successful singer.  Sadly for Sheena, her decade was the 80s and Madonna owned that decade the way no other man, woman or group did.  As Ava and C.I. observed in November 2006, "What Sheena Easton calls hits are blips for Madonna."  So Sheena's own remarkable accomplishments are frequently overlooked.  But they do exist and long after the drama and trauma that were Madonna's theatrics are forgotten, Sheena's best work will still be playing.

Radio Moment of the Week

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 Lynne Stewart is a political prisoner in the United States.   Lynne is an attorney, a grandmother, a breast cancer survivor.   On last week's Law and Disorder Radio,  an hour long program that airs Monday mornings at 9:00 a.m. EST on WBAI and around the country throughout the week, hosted by attorneys Heidi Boghosian, Michael S. Smith and Michael Ratner (Center for Constitutional Rights) topics addressed include political prisoner Lynne Stewart.

Michael S. Smith:  Michael, we sorely miss our friend Lynne Stewart who's in prison serving a really unjust ten year sentence.  And, of course, as we've reminded our listeners over the last few weeks, Lynne has taken ill again.  And there's a petition for her and I know you want to talk about it and get as many active because we want to get Lynne out of prison on a compassionate release.  So tell our listeners how they can help and what the situation is now for Lynne.


Michael Ratner: Well we're going to link to how you can sign the petition.  Lynne's got Stage IV Cancer as a lot of you know.  That is, her initial cancer which was in remission when they put her in prison three years ago is now in full bloom.  It's spread to her bones.  It's spread to her legs. It's spread to her lungs.  It's spread to her lymph nodes.  And it really is fatal.  We all want to get her out and get her some better medical care that she can get.  She's in a seven person cell down in Fort Worth, Texas.  Get her up to New York, better medical care and be surrounded by her family and friends.  And in order to do that, the Bureau of Prisons, the people with the key have to make a motion to Judge Kotel to ask that she be given a compassionate release.  It's possible.  You can get that.  They don't do it very often.  But with all the friends and supporters that Lynne has, we're hopeful that we can accomplish that.  6,000 people have signed the petition so far.  And I want to read you what Lynne said in thank you to these people -- two of them were Dick Gregory and Desmond Tutu and I'll read you something that Tutu said also. But here's this from Lynne:  "I want you individually to know how grateful and happy it makes me to have your support.  It's uplifting to say the least.  And after a lifetime of organizing, it proves once again that the People can rise.  The acknowledgment of the life-political and solutions brought about by group unity and support, is important to all of us.  Equally, so is the courage to sign on to a demand for a person whom the Government has branded with the "T" word -- Terrorism.  Understanding that the attack on me is a subterfuge for an attack on all lawyers who advocate without fear of Government displeasure, with intellectual honesty guided by their knowledge and their client's desire for his or her case, I hope our effort can be a crack in the American bastion.  Thank you, Lynne."  Pete Seeger wrote her back and said, "Lynne Stewart should be out of jail."  And he signed the postcard "Old Pete Seeger" accompanied by a drawing of a banjo.  Bishop Desmond Tutu, this was his esprit de corps.  He said, "It is devastating.  Totally unbelievable.  In this democracy, the only superpower?  I am sad.  I will sign praying God's blessing on your reference. Desmond Tutu."  Let's hope Lynne gets out on compassionate release while she's still able to at least be part of her community.  And if you'll go to Law and, we'll put the link where you can sign the petition.  And if you'll grab a pencil, I'll give you the name and address of the Director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons  because a well-aimed letter at him is not going to hurt.  His name is:

Charles E. Samuels Jr.
Federal Bureau of Prisons
320 First Street, NW
Washington, DC 20534

Please send a letter.  Go to Law and -- our website -- sign the petition. We'll be updating you every week on how Lynne is doing.

The forgotten victims of war

Last week, Angelina Jolie spoke at a G8 press conference. 

Foreign Ministers, Ambassadors, Ladies and Gentlemen, hundreds of thousands of women and children have been sexually assaulted, tortured, or forced into sexual slavery in the wars of our generation. Time and again the world has failed to prevent this abuse, or to hold attackers accountable.
Rape has been treated as something that simply happens in war; perpetrators have learnt that they can get away with it; and victims have been denied justice. But wartime rape is not inevitable. This violence can be prevented, and it must be confronted.
There are many individuals and NGOs who have worked tirelessly to address these crimes for years. But the international political will has been sorely lacking. I have heard survivors of rape from Bosnia to the Democratic Republic of Congo say that they feel the world simply does not care about them. And who could blame them?
For too long they have been the forgotten victims of war: responsible for none of the harm, but bearing the worst of the pain. But today, I believe, their voices have been heard, and that we finally have some hope to offer them.
I welcome the long-overdue stand that the G8 has taken, and this landmark Declaration. And I want to thank the Governments of the countries that have made funding commitments today. I particularly endorse the Declaration’s strong words on rights and freedoms for women and children, and its promise to include women in peace processes and democratic transitions.
I welcome the recognition of male victims of sexual violence; and the practical action promised to help to lift the stigma from survivors and provide rehabilitation - particularly for children.
There is no choice between peace and justice: peace requires justice. So I welcome the pledge by the G8 to regard rape and sexual violence in armed conflict as grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions; and to give no amnesty to those who commit these crimes. And I fully support the work that will now begin on an International Protocol on the Investigation and Documentation of Sexual Violence in Conflict, and look forward to its adoption.
Foreign Ministers, millions of people have been waiting for the commitments you have just made, and they will be watching to see them implemented. You have promised to work together to raise awareness of sexual violence and to bring down the barriers to justice. And this significance cannot be understated.
It is also encouraging to see men in leadership positions speaking out against rape, and I hope many others will follow your example.
I pay tribute to Zainab Bangura for her courageous and wonderful work; And I want to thank William Hague for his leadership: Rape is not a women’s issue, or a humanitarian issue, it is a global issue and it belongs here at the top table of international decision-making where he has put it. So I look forward to campaigning with him at the UN, and I call on other governments to make this cause their priority. If they do, this will be the start of a new global alliance against warzone rape and sexual violence; and finally an end to impunity.
Thank you.
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